Jake Van Wagoner and Austin Everett attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival screening of “Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out” on January 21, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Jim Bennett/Getty Images)
By Vanessa Zimmer
If there were an award for best title at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, this film would be a shoo-in: Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out.
Of course, there’s a story behind that, as revealed in the Q&A following the premiere screening on January 20 at the Festival. Utah filmmaker Jake Van Wagoner was looking for a new film to direct, and he called screenwriter Austin Everett: “Do you have something Spielbergian, something for my kids to watch?”
“I’ve got a serial killer [story] you can have,” Everett recalls saying, and the Festival audience laughs.
A month later, he had written a new story. He called Van Wagoner. “How about a movie called Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out?”
“OK, let’s do it,” Van Wagoner said. He didn’t even need the pitch; the title told him everything he needed to know. And that’s how the Utah-shot movie came to be.
The plot involves Calvin (Jacob Buster), a strange kid who wears a spacesuit to school and dips his Oreos in orange juice. Itsy (Emma Tremblay), the new girl looking for a way out of tiny Pebble Falls and back to the big city, befriends him, initially in hopes of writing a story about him that will win her an internship in New York City.
Turns out, Calvin is a nice guy who believes his parents were taken by aliens the night in 2012 when Jesper’s Comet sped by Earth. Now the comet is coming back, and Calvin thinks his parents are coming by to pick him up.
Aliens is a sweet film with a touch of grit that premiered in the Kids section of the Festival. But Itsy’s parents are a tad frisky (if you catch our drift), and there is at least one fairly heavy scene. Van Wagoner emphasizes: “I wanted it to be something everyone could watch.”
The team shot the 90-page script in 15 days, and the night exteriors were filmed in 7-degree weather, says Van Wagoner. Two of his sons and some of the crew’s children or relatives appeared in some scenes.
“We were really just running and gunning,” Van Wagoner says proudly.